This day in 1981: Gut check

Ken Anderson

Each week from the bye on, Bengals.com plans to go down the stretch with the 1981 AFC champion Bengals to see what was happening in the newspapers on this date 30 years ago.

OCT. 25, 1981: Bengals quarterback Ken Anderson, off his Pro Football Player of the Week performance against the Steelers, is wobbly as he approaches the training room in the visitors locker room of the Louisiana Superdome.

"Listen, I've got a headache," Anderson tells the media. "I don't feel like talking."

Unlike Albert Pujols in a World Series far, far from now, Anderson has an excuse. He had been knocked cold on this Sunday, as have his AFC Central-leading Bengals in a 17-7 ambush sprung by the 1-6 Saints that sends Cincinnati to 5-3 and into a tie for first at the halfway point with the winner of the Steelers-Oilers Monday-nighter.

The juggernaut offense that had steamrolled the Steelers seven days before on nearly 500 yards could manage just 205 against new Saints head coach Bum Phillips, Cincinnati's old defensive adversary with the Oilers. It was the lowest output for the Bengals since head coach Forrest Gregg's first game, the 1980 opener.

Saints quarterback Archie Manning, long before his son goes 7-0 vs. the Bengals, ups his record to 2-1 against them in his final appearance against Cincinnati on 15-of-24 passing for 170 yards and throws in a 15-yard scramble.

"We just didn't have the snap," Gregg says. "This is the only poor game we've played this year."

Asked about the injury to Anderson that sidelines him six plays into the second half and Gregg's pragmatic, even approach is on full display.

"We weren't moving the ball that well with Kenny in there," Gregg says with a shrug. "So I don't think you can say it would have made that much of a difference if he hadn't got hurt."

It is this calm, reasoned style that sets up the Bengals' response that turns out to be the greatest run in team history. They'll sweep the next five games in "The November to Remember," before losing to the 49ers on Dec. 6. The Bengals won't lose again until the 49ers beat them in the Super Bowl.

But, of course, no one knows that this day in the bowels of The Superdome, where even future Hall of Fame tackle Anthony Muñoz is licking some rare wounds. In what will be his first of 11 straight Pro Bowl seasons, Muñoz struggles with veteran defensive end Elois Grooms. It is Grooms that hammers Anderson in the jaw on a quick pass.

"I can't speak for everyone on the line, but personally I believe he outplayed me," says the stand-up Muñoz, in what may have been the last time those words were ever uttered.

The numbers speak for the rest of the line. Dave Lapham, one of Cincinnati's guards, remembers 30 years to the day, "We got our butts kicked," with Anderson finishing 13-of-21 for 117 yards and backup Jack Thompson managing just 6-of-20 for 81 yards.

It is the first kind of any serious action for Thompson, the third overall pick in the 1979 draft, since he sprained his ankle in the preseason finale and his disappointment is palatable as he breaks it down with his engaging intellect.

"I'm almost sure I put an undue burden on the offensive line by maybe hanging on to the primary receiver a little too long," he says. "If you're really fluid with your reads you look at the primary receiver much sooner and get the pass away quicker. That's rustiness."

Running back Pete Johnson, who fumbled just two of his 207 touches the prior season, gets drilled by Saints inside linebacker Jim Kovach after the Bengals reach the New Orleans 8 on the game's opening drive. Kovach manages to hit the football and Johnson says "it was a hell of a hit … nothing you can do about that," and the fumble sets the tone. The Bengals don't score their lone touchdown until late in the game.

But to listen to rookie wide receiver Cris Collinsworth, it is what the Saints did to the Bengals rhythm passing game that dooms them.

"They took away a lot of our primary routes," Collinsworth says. "They took away the base plays we've been hitting the past few weeks. They said, 'Y'all not going to beat us with these passes.' They brought blitzes on us. We just didn't have enough time back there to get our feet set and looking back at the second and third receivers."

Collinsworth and tight end Dan Ross are bottled up, although Ross scores Cincinnati's only touchdown of the day on a throw from Thompson. Each catch just four passes, Collinsworth for 45 yards and Ross for 39 yards when the Saints shut down his "middle read'' play that has revolutionized the position.

But it just goes to show it is one day in a long season.

Collinsworth is going to finish the year with 67 catches and 1,009 yards, club rookie records that won't be challenged until 30 years later and A.J. Green. Ross's 71 catches easily remain the club standard for a tight end.

"It looked like we had some routes open on the outside, but it just didn't click," Colllinsworth says.

The kid sounds like he's got a future in the TV booth. 

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